This is the first of two posts on the subject of school athletics. I was planning to start with a series of reasons why today’s students may be the final generation to see sports in school as we know them but instead I am saving that for my next post. For this first post I want to outline five reasons why school sports may continue well into the future.
School sports have always been a big part of my life, as a student, a teacher and a parent. Some of my most wonderful friendships are because of connections I made through school athletics. I do think we are in rapidly changing times, and suggesting that school sports may slowly disappear from our schools is not too far-fetched (As a bit of a preview I think issues like cost, safety, available coaches, onerous regulations and increased competition are all challenging school sports). That said, I find a number of compelling reasons that may mean the obstacles will be just that obstacles, and school sports will continue well into the future.
Here are five reasons that can lead me to believe those of you watching your children play school sports, will get to repeat the rite of passage with your grandchildren.
Firstly, nostalgia is big in schools. One of the qualities that people like about schools is they generally look the same for children as they did for their parents. Adults often romanticize their school sports experiences – from cheering on the football team, to scoring the winning goal in the soccer game. School rituals are often slow to change thus one could argue school sports are not going anywhere. There will be too much of a push to keep them. And while one can point to some jurisdictions around the world that don’t have them, they never have. School sports are such a part of the fabric of our schools.
Somewhat related, is that high school sports receive much more media coverage that community sports. When the media chooses to shine a light on school sports the public watches and listens which then influences the decisions young people make around sports. We are especially fortunate in British Columbia with Howard Tsumura at the Province Newspaper. No other major daily paper in the country gives the attention to high school sports as the Vancouver Province and Howard’s work, like his recent piece on why he loves high school basketball, helps ensure school sports are in the public eye. From our major daily newspapers, to television to local community papers there is far more coverage for teenagers playing school sports than those playing community sports. And this, in turn, helps to continue to support high school sports programs.
While there are many others in the community offering sporting opportunities, school districts in British Columbia, and across North America, own most of the gymnasiums. So when it comes to sports like volleyball, basketball, badminton and wrestling, it makes sense for schools to offer them since they have the facilities. For outside providers to offer these sports they have to pay gym rentals which can be often cost prohibitive. In other countries gymnasiums are like hockey rinks in Canada, and community facilities. As long as schools own the places where sports take place they will continue to be primary providers of the sports.
Another real potential for school sports is that, like with so much else in our schools, sports programs will evolve and new models will be created. I am particularly vested in this as we are trying just that in West Vancouver. For us, we have taken one of the primary school sports, basketball, and wrapped some programming around it (HERE) that help support athletes, develop coaches and keep students at their home school. For better or worse, sports have changed where almost all sports offer year-round options and training begins at much younger ages. School sports and community sports need to form new partnerships so that students are not left to select between playing sports at school and the community. There also needs to be different entry points – so you can have a team that has a range of commitment levels but all those involved have access to training and support to meet their levels of interest. Our thinking around new models, is that rather than have all students attend one school with a particular sports passion, how do we support them at multiple schools, so they can continue to compete for their home schools and we can reinforce the value of inter-school competition.
Another possibility to ensure the long-term viability of school sports is some sort of new hybrid model of recreation and competition. There is clearly a global push to have all our students be more active. Our traditional sports have often been about selecting some students to participate in a model where a small percentage of the student body actually participate. There are exceptions like football and rugby that have larger numbers, but it is generally true that school teams are quite small given the overall population of many schools. One possibility is that a new group of sports emerge / reemerge that have larger teams and are more recreation based. We have seen this with the growth of Ultimate in schools. Another possibility is that increased resources shift from inter-school teams to in-house intramural programs
There are major shifts happening in schooling. And so many shifts with the nature of teaching and learning. It is interesting that so far most of the discussion around school sports seem to be about trying to return them to some glory days of the past. In the next post I will outline some real challenges that seem to be facing school sports moving forward.
There are many who would argue that they just couldn’t imagine schools without sports as we know them. But that is not really the purpose of this post – it is not about whether they are important, it is about the drives and blockers to their long term success.
As I talk to athletes and coaches and read stories in the newspaper, in many ways school sports are continuing to make a difference like they always have before. And, of course, they have a lot going for them to assume this will continue into the future.